Our tracks and the tracks of the pursued are intricately woven into the land that we live on. We cannot escape from the mold that we have been placed into. Every creature leaves a unique trail in its path. The ability to decipher this trail and follow or learn about the one who left it is primarily determined by the skill of the tracker.
In 1991, my brother, Rob and I were hunting mule deer in Nevada. The hike to the hunting locating from the truck was about three miles over rugged terrain. We agreed that if we did not meet up by a half hour before sunset, we would return independently.
I was delayed while stalking a buck and did not reach our rendezvous point at the chosen time. Rob had already departed for the vehicles and the sun had nearly set before I began the hike back to our vehicles.
There were no visible trails in the shale and lava rock and the hike would be strictly crosscounty. Although open, the mountain had natural passages and it would not be unusual for the two of us would choose similar routes. The entire mountain was covered with trackless lava rock and shale. I gave little thought to my brother or the route that he may have taken.
In fact, at one point, I tried to climb a ridge that led me to an impasse. I was forced to back track and climbed down the open hillside to a shale-covered area. As I carefully navigated across the shale, lava rock and sage brush, I came to a patch of dirt only about three feet in diameter and when I placed my foot down, I realized I was stepping into a track left by Rob. Not only was I stepping in the same spot, but with the same foot and line of travel. It was over a mile from our rendezvous point to the dirt patch where we left our identical footprints. This did not happen by chance.
This event sent me a powerful message. People are predictable. Most of us are not trained to figure out how to do the predicting. The same concept applies to all animals, including those we hunt.
Humans rely strongly on vision. Eyesight is the number one tool that hunters use to locate game. We have complete confidence in our vision and instantly interpret the images that our eyes perceive and never doubt the reliability of those images. However, our eyesight at one time or another has deceived us all. That does not deter us from continued confidence in the reliability of our eyes.
If we have complete understanding of the tracks that are all around us, the tracks would be just as reliable as our vision. Our ability to utilize tracks for our own benefit and understanding are only limited by our ability or lack of ability to read sign.
Much of this sign we do see. Some of it is quite obvious. However, most of us choose to deem it unreliable. We choose not to believe what is right in front of us. Why is this? There are several reasons.
Unlike the hunter-gatherers, we spend little time in the forest. The knowledge that creates a working understanding of tracks and sign has not been passion. Concepts that were accepted as truth by ancient man are now looked upon with doubt.
With some effort, a sliver of understanding is attainable. For most of us, we only have time to attain a small insight into the sign that is written all over the face of the earth. Even this trickle of knowledge is a source of wealth to the hunter. By developing skills seldom understood in the modern world, the hunter’s enjoyment of time in the woods can reach a new level.